Belfast protest calls for Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland 


Young protestors lead calls for Irish language support in Northern Ireland 

THOUSANDS of protestors, in a demonstration estimated by organisers to be larger than 12,000, have brought the centre of Belfast to a standstill in the latest mass rally calling for the protection of Irish language services. 

The rally, called during a continued political stalemate in the six counties, was in support of the pledged Irish Language Act and protection of Irish language services from austerity cuts. 

The issue of the Irish language was a contentious area in the recent snap elections to the Northern Irish assembly, and during the failed talks to re-establish power sharing in the North. 

Sinn Féin, and other groups within the Irish republican community, claim the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has failed to respect Irish speakers by failing to establish a language act. The St Andrew’s Agreement, signed in 2006, pledged to “introduce an Irish Language Act” – but such an Act was never legislated for in London or Belfast. 

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, of activist group An Dream Dearg, told the rally: “We are the risen people who will not stop until we receive the respect, recognition and rights that we are entitled to as citizens. Our message is loud and clear, no government and no settlement and no new political arrangements that facilitates the discrimination and exclusion of Irish speakers.”

“The language is central to the political crisis in the north and rights for the Irish language community must be central in any political settlement that emerges in the time ahead,” he added. 

The Northern Irish Assembly election in March saw the DUP pip Sinn Féin by just one seat, with both parties finishing on close to a quarter of a million votes each. The election was the first time in the history of the Northern Irish state that unionist parties failed to win a majority. 

Following the peace process a power sharing agreement is required between the main unionist and nationalist parties to form a government. However, no deal has been reached between the DUP and Sinn Féin. Recognition for the Irish language, which DUP leader Arlene Foster has compared to feeding a crocodile, has been a contentious issue in discussions, alongised matters connected to Brexit and the so called ‘cash for ash’ energy scheme scandal which brought down the previous power sharing executive earlier this year. 

Wales and Scotland both have language acts in place in relation to Welsh and Gaelic.

Picture courtesy of An Dream Dearg

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